The present review describes the role of different energy regimes throughout human history, as well as their corresponding environmental impacts. The appearance of Homo sapiens and the development of primitive human civilizations can be narrated by different energy regimes throughout the centuries. Getting the energy that humans needed for their needs affected directly the environment in many different ways. Some energy uses have a greater impact than others.
Environmental historians have devised different chronologies of human history according to the different energy regimes, from the discovery of fire to the use of fossil fuels. They subdivided the energy regimes into two ages, the Age of Solar Energy and the Age of Fossil Fuels. Starting with the divisions related to “gatherer-hunters” (1.5 million to 10.000) and “pre-industrial agriculture” (covers many centuries until 1750) to the period dealing with “an industrial world” (up to 1950), and the period related to the developments in the post industrial society (1950 and the 21st century).
Until the 1700s, however, agriculture continued to rely on energy directly related to the sun and stored in organic systems. After 1750, humans developed new ways of thinking about nature, as well as new kinds of energy systems based on coal and the production of steam. New energy systems (petroleum, natural gas, hydroelectric) facilitated a dramatic increase in human populations but at the same time polluted quite heavily damaging the environmental balance with nature. Those increasing trends changed dramatically after 1950s and resulted in a doubled population and multiple energy use for transport and electricity. Despite the addition of nuclear, hydroelectric and renewable energy sources, human society continues to influence negatively the environment. The greenhouse gas emissions have led to one of the most challenging environmental issues in human history of energy uses.